HeartSphere Counseling, LLC Michele M. Preste, LMHC
Last post I talked about community and how individuals are becoming more isolated in spite of being more connected through social media and our many electronic devices. Today, I want to share more about what is happening to us individually because of this trend.
Last year, I read Lost Connections by Johann Hari. I recently revisited the book as part of my exploration of the word “community.” Hari explores the social causes of depression. One of the causes he discusses is “disconnection from other people.” In other words, the loss of connection. Hari met with many researchers who have made a career of studying loneliness. Here is a bit of what he found along the way.
The trend toward isolation and loneliness actually began as far back as the 1930’s. However, the isolation and loneliness trend has accelerated in recent years. In the ten year period from 1985 through 1994, involvement in community organizations decreased by 45%. Many years ago, when a person was asked about how many meaningful friends they had, the average number was three. In 2004, when that same question was asked, the most prevalent answer to the question was zero. In other words, more people have no close friends. This trend also applies to our interactions with family members; e.g., we eat with family members less often and we don’t go on vacations with family members as often as we used to in years past. These are disturbing trends and we are seeing the significant negative effects in our society in the news every day.
We humans are curious creatures because of some of our hard-wired behaviors we inherited from our ancestors. Two behaviors, in particular, seem very contradictory. We are hard-wired to remember the negative first and we are hard-wired for connection; i.e., community. Remembering the negative helped us to survive the dangers of our primitive world; for example, where was the Saber-toothed tiger den or the quicksand or the neighboring tribe’s village. In other words, remembering where the dangers were was a lifesaving skill. However, living in a community also helped us to survive. We had others to help us gather food or nurture us back to health when we were injured or sick. Let’s face it, when things go bump in the night, you really appreciate being surrounded by a crowd of people who can help fend off the dangers of the night. But, we now have less of this type of community because we have learned, over the years, that it is best for us to take care of ourselves rather than to depend on others.
This is a curious thing as researchers have found the more isolated (not in community) an individual is the greater the chance of getting sick. To be exact, three times more likely to get sick. In addition, more isolated people are 2 to 3 times more likely to die than individuals connected to their community. Being isolated and lonely has also been found to contribute to higher levels of cortisol in a person’s body which impacts sleep patterns and increases levels of fear, anxiety, and depression. An individual’s world view actually begins to change as the individual becomes harder to be around because of their negatives thoughts and fears. Isolated individuals become more judgmental, less trusting, and experience less love in their life. In effect, individuals become less tolerant of others.
The antidote for this trend is not more interaction via social media. These avenues of interaction only serve to promote more “anonymous” interactions. The antidote that is actually needed is an increase of face-to-face interactions with others. Because we are, by nature and thousands of years of conditioning, social creatures. This means we need to use all of our five senses to interact with people in a meaningful way. We just can’t do that with a computer and a screen.
I happen to agreed that there is a time and place for social media and learning the skills of being an independent person. But, not to the exclusion of connection and community. With connection and community, our personal experience and society’s experience as a whole becomes healthier.
So pick up the phone and make a date with a friend to meet for coffee, join a book club, learn something new by attending a class and making a conscious effort to makes friends with your classmates, get to know a co-worker on a more personal level, participate in a community volunteer program, or take time to say more than just “hello” to your neighbor. You may just surprise yourself at how good you start to feel both physically and emotionally. You may also notice that you have developed a stronger sense of community and a broader worldview. T
Thanks for giving my thoughts some consideration. If you have a chance, check out Johann Hari’s book Lost Connecions. He has quite a bit more to say about disconnection (lose of community) and reconnecting (creating community).
Next time, I will be talking about the wise word “tolerance” which has a significant correlation to community. Until then . . .
Live an inspired life.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, 2018. Bloomsbury Publishing.